When you think of role models, a horse-man hybrid with an alcohol addiction and self-destructive tendencies isn’t exactly the first thing to come to mind. Comparisons are often made between Rick and Morty and BoJack Horseman, but what makes the latter stand out most prominently is (surprisingly) its realism and the dimensionality of its characters.
As with Rick and Morty, it is clear to see that the fictional Hollywoo and its inhabitants are hardly squeaky-clean protagonists, but in BoJack Horseman this is used as more than a mere comedic device. These characters are multi-faceted and damaged, and when they make mistakes we see the real-world consequences of this that can’t always be magically fixed. It’s a sobering, realistic exploration of mental health and it’s consequences. There isn’t always a happy ending but, as bleak as that sounds, that’s an important lesson for people to learn.
So, what can we learn from our titular character? The troubled BoJack ( is both abhorrent and sympathetic. Time after time we have seen BoJack do some awful and sometimes disgusting things, but our insight into his abusive upbringing and self-loathing suggests that one can do bad things but not necessarily be a bad person. Or, in the case of his mother, Beatrice, you can see that they’re a terrible person but at least understand that they aren’t born bad. Perhaps it can teach us to be more sympathetic or more mindful of how we have the potential to damage and twist each other in order to avoid it happening in the first place.
BoJack’s story arcs also present the harsh realities of life to us, which is a bitter but necessary pill that we need to swallow. No matter how remorseful he felt for not standing up for Herb or for sabotaging Todd’s success, that doesn’t undo the damage he did to their lives. He feels entitled to Herb and especially Todd’s forgiveness because he realised his mistakes, but he doesn’t get that and isn’t necessarily owed that, either. Sometimes you need to just forgive yourself and move on. Equally, it shows us that even if you do everything right, that doesn’t mean you’re always going to be successful. Despite BoJack’s initial commitment to the ‘Secretariat’ movie and a tireless Oscar campaign, he didn’t get nominated and that’s just life, no matter how unfair it may seem.
As for the other characters, we can learn both positive and negative lessons about how they see the world. We probably shouldn’t aspire to be like Todd in the sense of living on people’s couches and playing video games, but we can adopt his approach in standing up for himself. Todd, especially in the later seasons, learned to not let others take advantage of his naïve nature and isn’t afraid to draw a line. Equally, with the storyline exploring his asexuality, we are encouraged to accept ourselves no matter how ‘different’ we may feel ourselves to be.
With Princess Carolyn, we see how relentless ambition and hard work can lead to results even if the odds are against you or nobody really believes in you. But at the same time, we are shown the damaging effects of a workaholic lifestyle and how important a work-life balance is to your wellbeing. Thirdly, we are shown that we can’t always do everything on our own and that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help if you need it.
Both Diane and BoJack also teach us that we can’t always force ourselves to be happy, even when we think we have everything we want. Whether you’ve become a respected star after years of trying or have finally achieved that picture-perfect marriage, depression is a real illness and you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for feeling a certain way just because others think you have no problems. Additionally, Diane’s abusive family shows us that our background and past doesn’t have to define us: we can carve out an identity for ourselves.
Whilst the forever-cheery Mr. Peanutbutter might seem out of place on a show like this, he does provide us with some important advice about identity. No matter how rich and famous he may be, he always has time to be kind. In other words, he doesn’t compromise his values based on his position in society. Whether he’s on the cusp of poverty or a popular TV show host, Mr. Peanutbutter retains the same optimism and happy-go-lucky attitude. In an industry where people constantly feel that they need to change themselves to fit in, Mr. Peanutbutter finds success in the entertainment industry by staying the same person he always was.
Overall, we’ve seen these characters go through incredible hardships and lose everything time and time again, but we also see that despite the journey not always being easy, they always eventually come out of the other side. So, if you’re ever going through a rough patch in your life, this peculiar dark dramedy shows us that there can be some light, too.
BoJack Horseman Seasons 1-5 are available now on Netflix.